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July 25, 2013

U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey both opposed the student loan deal.

U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey both opposed the student loan deal. Credit: Kirk Carapezza / WGBH

The U.S. Senate has reached an agreement on a bill that would tie student-loan interest rates to market-based rates. The deal comes just three weeks after interest rates doubled on July 1, concerning everyone from high school seniors to their parents.

Under the plan, interest rates would roll back to 3.8 percent. If the market goes up, student loan rates would go up, and they’d be capped at 8.25 percent for undergraduates and 9.5 percent for graduate students.

“To get it through Congress, we had to agree to a cap,” said Republican U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, part of the bipartisan group of senators that supported the bill. Speaking on WGBH’s The Takeaway, Coburn said the deal would prevent any new taxpayer losses.

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Under the plan, interest rates would roll back to 3.8 percent. If the market goes up, student loan rates would go up, and they’d be capped at 8.25 percent for undergraduates and 9.5 percent for graduate students.

“To get it through Congress, we had to agree to a cap,” said Republican U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, part of the bipartisan group of senators that supported the bill. Speaking on WGBH’s The Takeaway, Coburn said the deal would prevent any new taxpayer losses.

“As a fiscal conservative, I don’t think this is the role for government," Coburn said. "I think markets ought to determine it. And what we’re seeing, with the prices of tuitions at universities, the more money that’s available, the faster they raise tuitions not by giving more value, but because they can.”

And if universities can get away with it, Coburn argues, their tuition and fees will continue to soar.

Recent college graduate Derek Kaknes launched a private student loan company, he says, to put a fair price on higher education.

“If something looks broken, it probably is broken," Kaknes said. "And when I went through the higher education system, it just was clear that this system is broken.”

And Kaknes doesn’t think today’s deal, which ties student loan interest rates to market rates, will have any real effect on fixing America’s higher education industry.

“We focus a lot on the interest rates in student loans," he said. "And it’s not that material, because what we’re able to do from the private sector is that if someone gets a student loan and it’s not commensurate with their credit risk, then we’ll come in with private capital and refinance it down to a lower rate that is commensurate.”

In Washington, the bipartisan deal has drawn a lukewarm response, dividing Democrats, including Senator Elizabeth Warren, who says it will only result in higher costs.

confronting cost, student loans, Senate, higher ed

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